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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

To B.B. or not to B.B.

Bye-bye to the "O," the "ball," the "cele."
 After 18 months a humanoid, our daughter Penelope qualified for her surgery to correct her abdominal defect. Called a "giant omphalocele," it was a grapefruit-sized fleshy doorknob on her belly containing her entire liver. As bad as that sounds, it was a hard-won improvement over the problem at birth, which was a clear membrane containing liver, some intestine, and a sac of amber fluid. Fortunately, this mess gradually grew skin and became something manageable.

Yesterday, her surgeons got hold of her and set her straight. It only took a couple of hours, as her body had grown to accommodate the displaced liver. Everything popped smoothly into place. Now she is about as aero-, hydro-, and sociodynamic as any human. Even the surgeons seemed surprised by how well it all fell into place. At the end of his account, the head surgeon said he tried at the end to give her a bit of a belly button. He downplayed the result, saying that the plastic surgeons could eventually do much better. We can't see anything under her big bandage, and all we care about right now is avoiding infection/optimizing healing. I assume he just left a scrap of extra skin in the right location, a little knot of tissue like a belly button rough draft.

The underlying assumption for the whole scenario is that a belly button is, if not mandatory, at least to be desired by all parties. But I find myself leaning anti-belly-button. Why?

Admittedly, part of the motivation for the whole surgery was cosmetic. Penelope was fully functional and healthy as she was; most babies with her birth defect come with more problems. All she ever really suffered, after the months it took to grow decent skin, was acid reflux. Still, she would always be running around with her largest organ in a protrusion prone to injury. Worse, once she grew into greater self-consciousness, she was sure to suffer the barbed comments of schoolyard shitasses, not to mention the random fumbles of a haplessly sociopathic world (My wife relayed the embarrassing restaurant experience of another "O" baby, who was seized on the belly bulge by a playful waitress who cried, "Do you have a ball under your shirt?!" and tugged more than once before understanding that she was grabbing the kid's extruded innards.) I brought myself to watery eyes more than once by imagining Penelope's eventual realizations that her belly was not only incongruous with bikinis and all other parameters of bodily beauty, but that it would forever be the bulls-eye of malicious mockery, even if by freakish good fortune the only attacker turned out to be the impossible standards of American beauty she is set to inherit. In short, her defect would not let her be sociodynamic.

Now she has gone from perhaps the ultimate "outie" belly button to no b.b. at all. For some reason, this strikes me as an optimal level of oddity. Not only are belly buttons useless, they catch dirt and even require occasional cleaning. I also have early memories of being slightly freaked out by the belly buttons of some other kids, back in those single-digit ages when you first encounter the bodies of your contemporaries at swimming pools and in gym classes. This in turn led to thinking that my own belly button was sub-par, partly because my sister said hers was better than mine. I think she had a fairly strict belly-button grading system already worked out, and mine definitely fell below hers in quality.

So, shouldn't I be shopping around for the best belly-button Nip/Tuck badass available? Is there even a conception or diagram of "the perfect belly button"? Obviously the b.b. ranks lower than, say, the nose, when it comes to cosmetic prominence. Just as obvious, my endorsement of no b.b. is less problematic than when Michael Jackson seemed in hot pursuit of whittling his nose down to nothing. But I'm sure there are some people out there who would call me cruel or abusive if I were to deny my child a belly button. I think the benefits of non-naveling are obvious (in no special order):

1) It would be a record of Penelope's unique origin story
2) It would be an ongoing--but optionally concealed--conversation piece, good for all sorts of jokes like, "I hatched from an egg," or "I'm a clone/alien/animate mannikin/etc."
3) It would require no further surgeries (unless her "rough-draft" b.b. is noticeable and bad)
4) It would be hygienic
5) It might look cool
6) It would eliminate belly-button grading
7) It would be hydrodynamic, increasing swim speed by some negligible smidgen

All this might be selfishly based on my own aesthetics. Get your feedback in if you wish to influence a rare omphalossian decision-making process.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Redneck Tales of Wonder

(Yes, I wish I had photos for this one.)

Some months ago, my mom's friend Patty was in a car crash on my parents' road. She was okay, but her car was quite damaged. The other car had apparently run a stop sign at the crossroads, partly because big weeds obscure the sign. The other driver was a fat guy who acted weird, laughing about the collision.

Today my dad said he saw the same car run by the same stop sign without stopping, but with a woman looking at a phone. "Hey, that's the same car that hit Patty." A little later, he took my mom down the road to find the people, because he is an old cranky guy who sometimes likes to berate people who fuck up. My mom thought he would talk to the driver, but when they got there, he told her to get out and talk. I guess she went to knock on the door, even though she didn't want to.

Out came a big turkey, which apparently functioned as a watchdog. Hanging on a fence was a wooden paddle, offered for defending oneself from the turkey. Story is sketchy here. I don't know if it was labeled "turkey paddle," or if it was simply located such that any alert person would be eager to have it at the moment of turkey aggression. My wife and I imagined it went something like this:

MOM: "Oh, I see a turkey!"
DAD: "Norma! Grab that paddle—turkey's comin'."
MOM: "What? ... he's always yelling at me."
DAD: "Get that paddle! Gah!" (rolls up window)
MOM: "oh no, this turkey's coming to get me!"

By and by, my mom got the paddle and used it to fend off the turkey. She gained the porch and knocked, but no one ever came to the door. Giving up, she got back in the car. As they left, somewhere on the property (story is sketchy again), they saw a very fat man—the one who drove the renegade car into Patty—sitting naked in a chair. "Or he may have been wearing underwear, it was hard to tell," said my mom, " but I think he was completely naked, and he smiled and waved at us."

They decided not to go talk to him.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

TV I Want: Bum Chef

Maybe it would have to be called "Hobo Chef" or "Drifter's Grill" in order to be less degrading for potential guests, but the concept is simple: Find a stable and industrious homeless person, preferably cooperative and social. Hook him or her up with a little grill or trash barrel, and see what's for dinner. This is your "Julia Child" anchorbum. Each episode would then have a different guest from around the homeless culinary world. Then they share their favorite recipes and techniques.

This appeals to me because most of the existing cooking shows are predictable. Even the Gordon Ramsay ones where people yell and scream end up pretty much the same each time. I want to see some guy roasting a raccoon on a curtain rod, or see what sort of garnishes can be made from chickweed or dandelions. I think they could grate cheese on a perforated Mountain Dew can. I believe the true Bum Chef is out there, making something delicious out of the trash every evening, and America wants to watch him. At least, I do.

I just found a parody version of this concept already on YouTube, but it's not much good. I think this would only be worth watching if drawn from reality, with just the right fringe personalities, and the oddities of circumstance that only reality can provide.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My Lost Episode of Star Trek: TNG

A year or two ago, The Next Generation was re-running on a local station. I only caught a few episodes, but was refreshed on a couple of favorites, like the one where Picard goes back to France to fight with his sour-faced brother in the family vineyard, then ends up crying over his Borg trauma. Because it would be too much work to write a real script with serious intent for a long-dead show, I just ended up writing a weird one. My first-ever "fan fiction."

“Cowboy Poetry”
Wesley Crusher writes a Holodeck dog program for Data because mortality is a human lesson best hammered home by having a pet. But the dog program uses a timing subroutine tied to some other system and they have to make the dog age quickly in order to save the warp core or whatever is sizzling down in engineering. Jordie tamps the problem down, then runs up to the Holodeck just in time to see Data cocking his head as the graying dog expires in his arms. “At this accelerated lifespan,” he says, “I believe I could raise a minimum of 188,632 generations of dogs before my positronic brain burns out. Perhaps I could oversee the simulation of many new breeds for future dog lovers." Jordie shakes his head and tells Data he's missing the point of having a dog.

After dumping Counselor Troi over a petty argument, Riker becomes addicted to an exotic mixed drink in 10-Forward. It looks like steaming blood and it’s served by the hottest damn blue-skinned alien wench he’s ever seen. It’s actually Guinan in disguise, trying to teach him a lesson. The drink makes him feel ten feet tall but has the side-effect of making his voice very high. This wrecks his ability to pick up women, so he goes to see Dr. Crusher for a cure. She is too busy dealing with an outbreak of Ferengi ear infections, so she puts him to work. His voice gets so high that only Ferengi can hear him. Then he passes out and the doctor puts him to bed, but sickbay is so crowded he must share a bed with an ill Ferengi wearing a spongy helmet. After sleeping it off, Riker awakens with his usual manly voice, but spooning with a Ferengi embarrases him. He slinks back to his quarters, where Troi has left him a note: "Will, I think you would make a great Ferengi wife."

Picard has too many books and fine wines stockpiled in his captain’s quarters. They’re getting in his way, so he starts stashing them in a shuttle. Starfleet shuttles are not very big, so he has to move some weapons out of a locker. Later, Worf has to take that same shuttle down to pick up a Romulan prisoner who tried to blow up a moonbase and ended up the only survivor in the rapidly decompressing moonbase. At a critical juncture, Worf needs a weapon but finds only books in the weapons locker. The Romulan chokes him to death, dumps his body on the lifeless moon, and steals the shuttle. Picard finally realizes he is a hoarder. He beams down to retrieve Worf’s body, still clutching Picard’s rare volume of cowboy poetry. Wesley suggests that they clone a new Worf from stem cells, because he didn’t have much personality anyway, so it would be easy to make another, and fun to watch it grow. Picard says, “Make it so!”

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Diagram of Outdated Desires

Here is proof that mankind has gone too far into the maze of delirium that is the internet, which is a Gordian knot of distraction, an essentially infinite morass of come-hithers and self-reflexive desire-loops.

This old ad, and its numerous cousins (Sell Grit, Footlocker of WW2 Soldiers, etc) that once proliferated in comic books and kids' magazines, not to mention fireworks catalogs and seed catalogs boasting things like Praying Mantis Egg Cases and a Dwarf Tree Bearing Multiple Fruits, were once all I needed to look at. Who knows how many hours I spent looking at these simple icons of "man, I want that"?

Would I ever earn prizes or cash? Not a chance. I never even tried calling Peggy. If my materialistic reveries ever stalled out in a consideration of reality, I knew I hadn't the balls to go door-to-door, nor the adult approval, nor the proper density or affluence of neighbors. There were only about eight homes within a mile of my house, and I could picture none of them buying anything from me. I would have to take my sister with me, and then she would win the prizes. No, it was far more comforting to pore over the page of brain-stimulating sigils and just WANT them.

I wonder if anyone ever sold Grit, or Olympic cards. Maybe it was all a plot by our corporate masters, to instill deep longing for junk in our pre-consumer neuronal pathways.

I wonder if there ever was a Peggy.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Priceless Yesteryear Souvenir

I don't know why it was on a pre-punched binder sheet. I suppose Bruce stole the paper from the recycling bin in the Jawa desert transport.

This low-res image of a Jawa is one of my favorite mementos of the glory days of Chicago ComiCon, back in the ‘90s, before it was bought by “WizardWorld” and turned into a much more profiteering and corporate affair. It was a scrappy, bootstrappy era when basically anyone with the confidence to apply could get free table space in Artists’ Alley, along with a “PROFESSIONAL” badge. Cranial Brad and I peddled our minicomics and T-shirts there a few times; at least once, Brad just came at the last minute as my "assistant," and got a badge made at the door. Of course this meant that any talentless jackass could be signing junky photocopied comics or color copies (laser prints!), but the same holds true today, it’s just that you spend $200 for a table alongside talentless jackasses with the gumption to pay in advance more than they are likely to earn back that weekend.

Anyway, one year (maybe 1994 or so), there was this kid, I think from Kenosha, Wisconsin (because for some reason all the savvy cool kids at that con were from Kenosha) who came in with a stack of these vague Jawa images. They were little more than enlarged clip art, but with a flourish of metallic gold pen, he transformed them into free souvenirs. He was too young to have been in Star Wars, and I don’t think his name was even Bruce Jones. He just shopped the merchandise aisles for Godzilla stuff, and then took occasional breaks at his table to carelessly sign some Jawa pics. In those days there were usually booths for actual minor Star Wars sub-celebs, such as the tall guys who wore the Chewbacca or Darth Vader suits in the movie, but they were only available at designated signing times, and you had to pay to stand in line for their autographs. Who knows, maybe some people actually thought this kid had been a true Jawa. To me, he will always be Eternal Jawa Chieftain.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Unfinished Stories for Imperfect Babies

Two-Teef P about to embrace The Giant Cheerio
And now, a veritable smorgasbord of tantalizing tales for the desperately outmoded fan of subliterary tragicomedies, presented to draw funding to the March of Dimes Walk for Babies. Read a story, make a donation, demand an ending!

Chronicles of Babyville

High on a hill in the heart of a beanstalk orchard, and far behind a cornfield with only one cornstalk surrounded by 2000 scarecrows, somewhere between the mountains of Kansas and the Himalayan cat show, is the simplemindedly awesome but shakily constructed town of Babyville.

The mayor of Babyville cried and cried. The only reason the rest of the babies listened was that the Mayor was the loudest baby. His concussive bawling broke windows, popped balloons, and made other babies cry. He cried so ferociously that his bib flapped straight out and finally ripped in half.

Why was the Mayor so upset? He thought Babyville was getting too stinky. A majority of the babies refused to bathe, while most of the remainder were amenable to bathing, but simply neglected it. This was nothing new. There were two political parties in Babyville—the Bath Party, led by the Mayor, and the No-Bath Party, headed by Ploppy Busterson. There were more babies in the No-Bath Party, but since no one could count, there was no reliable census data. Best of all, there was no polling. Honestly, there wasn’t even enough organization in Babyville to sustain a modest anarchy. “Bite-Makes-Right” was the law of the land, softened with just a dribble of Milk of Human Kindness. 

The Mayor crawled to the top of a pillow and held up his drool-soaked fist. But Ploppy Busterson rambled to the top of a heap of old diapers, lifting his carrot-shaped teether like a scepter—a rare challenge to the Mayor’s leadership! Both babies pointed at each other, gagged, and prepared to cry by sucking in half of the air in the town. All the other babies’ eyes bulged out. It was going to be crazy loud! Some of the more sensitive babies, like Lily Snizzle, rolled into their beds or wiggled under a row of pickle bushes. Silly Billy Coddle was caught out in the open, so he jammed a pacifier into one ear, then laid his other ear against the ground and fell fast asleep.

The Mayor pulled rank and screamed first. He wound up his lungs, then wailed with jackhammer force. The grass around him blew outward, then laid flat on the ground. The Noodlebaum Triplets went rolling away like tumbleweeds. A small formation of diaper owls was blown from the sky, along with a goose and a kite.

Ploppy Busterson’s turn came. He screamed loud enough to kill flies and curdle milk, but there was a single, undeniable fact: the Mayor had already cried so loudly that everyone’s ears were ringing, which indicates hearing damage. They didn’t even know if Ploppy was louder, because they were half deaf when he started. So, at last the Mayor was victorious, but of course Ploppy vowed revenge. He rolled forward and screamed into the dirt, driving several wiggly earthworms out of the ground, and one of them straight into the bedrock below. TO BE CONTINUED...

Moon Base Alfalfa

In the early days of NASA, long before they landed rovers on Mars and Venus, long before the discovery of sleeping Transformblers on the Moon, NASA had to compete with the Soviets. It was a “space race.” The Soviets (Russians with frowns) not only had a beeping metal ball named Sputnik in orbit, they also launched a dog into space. Her name was Laika.
    Never known for their social grace, the Soviets sent Laika into space, but gave her no way to come home. After a while, she ran out of food and air, so she pooped out in a fatal way. She would have whimpered, but she couldn’t breathe. At least she died a hero, but she would have rather eaten some savory leftovers in an oxygen-rich environment.
    Most people would be embarrassed to do that to a dog, but not the Soviets. They took a picture of her in space and mailed it to the President of the USA, saying, “Top this, Yankee swine. Also, Happy Holidays!” (This was the Soviets’ idea of a Christmas card.) You could even see Sputnik shooting by in the background, even though that never happened—it was just pasted in, to make the President even more upset.
    It worked! The President stared at the card every day until his eyes cried. Finally he slammed it down on his desk, called Dave at NASA on his red telephone, and gusted, “I bought you guys Cape Canaveral and now the Soviets have a space dog! What happened? How did we get so far behind?”
    “Well, sir, we have the weather balloon turtle, AND a supersonic guinea pig—he went secretly around the Earth in John Glenn’s fanny pack!”
    “Grrr!” uttered the President, “Why didn’t we get that on television? Now it’s too late—that looks silly next to a cosmonaut dog!”
    “Be patient, sir, we—” said NASA Dave.
    “Shut up! No more waiting patiently! I want astro-pups and low-orbit marsupials! Give me big results, Dave! By next Christmas, I’d better have a ding-dong PETTING ZOO on the Moon, with little American flags all over that stuff!” The President hung up the phone, forgetting that NASA Dave was a very literal-minded sort of fellow.
    “Well, it’s only January, and the moon IS the closest heavenly body,” stated Dave. He called together his best engineers. First, they needed a petting zoo.
    “What animals belong in a petting zoo again? Is it limited to barnyard mammals?”
    “Negative,” said NASA Yuri. “Ducks and chickens can be included in that scenario.”
    “Right. So, domesticated mammals, AND fowl.” Dave began sketching a simulation.
    “Wait,” announced Yuri, scratching out an equation, “exclude roosters, ganders, and peacocks.” Yuri scribbled in his Big Chief algorithm pad. “Their behaviors fall outside petting zoo parameters.” Yuri had a mathematical talent, all right.
    “That’s right,” said NASA Bob, “Those boy-birds will peck and flog a child to ribbons quicker’n you can say Jiminy Christmas!” Bob left the math to Yuri (he flew by the seat of his pants, which were blue jeans).
    So, by week’s end, they had assembled America’s elite new team of Animals Amenable to Repeated Petting (AARP): a duck (Mallard), a goat (Nubian), a sheep (Merino), a calf (Holstein), a small pony (Shetland), a rabbit, two hens (Leghorns), and a sheepdog sworn to protect them all. Why two hens? “Redundancy,” said Yuri. His calculations showed a statistically significant chance that the dog would choose hunger over duty. The dog resented the implication; he, in turn, smelled Soviet spy all over Yuri. TO BE CONTINUED...

Struggles the Clown

Once, a baby clown was born in the back of a crummy old costume shop. He was very tiny, so his mother laid him to sleep in the cozy hollow of a well worn sombrero, nested in red clown hair and covered with a tear-stained newspaper. Mother Clown thought her baby looked scrawny and fragile. “Baby, milk will not be enough. I will feed you sticks of butter.” So she ran out the door to buy some butter, and promptly fell down a flight of stairs behind the costume shop. Unfortunately, she was in her clown clothes, so people on the street who saw her tumbling down the stairs thought it was part of a clowning act. They laughed and laughed! No one called an ambulance. She was hurt pretty bad, so she couldn’t get up or cry for help. All she could do was toot her little rubber horn, which just made everyone laugh harder.

Although her final comedy routine earned good word-of-mouth reviews around the neighborhood, soon it was too late for Mother Clown. But what would become of her little clown baby? Well, he wasn’t finished, not by a long shot! He cried and wiggled. He tore his newspaper blanket into shreds. He wobbled his way out of his sombrero and onto the floor. For a little while he was lost in a spill of packing peanuts, but he clawed his way out. He rested his head on one peanut and sniffled, sniffled, sniffled.

His feeble cries sounded almost like a kitten. A very lonely stray cat found him, rubbed him, licked him, and warmed him up until he stopped crying. The cat watched over him for a while, considered eating him, then got bored and went to chase a squirrel. A hobo named Tony came around looking for the cat. He usually fed the cat, which was not in its usual spot by the trash dumpster. “Oh dumpster cat,” said Tony. “Here kitty katty kooty kooky pooky.” He carried a can of goat milk that was expired but still tasted fine. Up the stairs he went, looking for the cat. He heard some little cries and found the baby clown, squirming in a puddle of drool and tears.

“Oh dear, little goobee… you need some holiday cheer-ups. Here is a kleenex and a candy cane—well, part of a candy cane.” Tony couldn’t stop wiping the baby clown’s face with his last kleenex, and the baby wouldn’t stop crying, until the kleenex was turned to a salty mush that Hobo Tony knew could be used as a way to stretch oatmeal. He wiped the kleenex paste on his grimy pants and declared, “Baby Struggles, you deserve better than this hard-luck vale of tears. Someday you will live high on the hog, and forget all about tears-and-kleenex oatmeal… you will own whole entire candy canes that don’t fall out through the holes in your clothes, because you won’t even have holes in your clothes. Well, except for the holes your put your arms and neck through. Now stop crying, or you will dehydrate!” TO BE CONTINUED...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


"The End of the Line," one of several scenes from my preferred Underworld.
I've written ghost stories, and I've drawn pictures of ghosts and reanimations. I'd like nothing better than to believe in ghosts. However, I do not believe in them, citing a lack of sensory information, plausible rationale, and empirical evidence. Apparently I am nearly alone in this.

Not only is everyone reading the tar out of this Sylvia Browne book, "Visits from the Afterlife," it sounds like they are using it as a self-help guide.

After her grandmother died, my wife immediately began to interpret little somethings as Grandma's signals from beyond. This makes a certain sense, especially considering the days of sorting through Grandma's mementos and old belongings cast a kind of unavoidable spell of bygone days resurrected. Best of all was a photo over 80 years old showing an apparent doppelganger of my wife as a child—roughly 40-50 years before she was even born—as if hanging out like a playmate in Grandma's childhood.

My wife's pre-clone, second from left, bottom row.
Of course, doppelgangers are another matter entirely, especially within family trees where they are easily explained away by genetic rehashing. My own mother used to insist I was her dad reincarnated. This was especially problematic since he was still alive until I was 2 or 3, making for two scenarios: I was a soulless golem until he passed away (into me), or he was an astral pirate of sorts, who, worse than stealing candy from a baby, would steal corporeal form from a toddler. Either way, I can't remember. But, now I watch my daughter every day, on a relentless quest to crawl and climb into the same kind of cuckoo dangers that put her dear old Da-Da into countless falls, scrapes and stitch-me-ups. Heritable traits put the DNA in "reincarnated." (yes, those letters are in there—haha!)

Then we took a trip to Springfield's Pythian Castle for my mother-in-law's birthday, including a "ghost tour." A guy told us tales from the castle's remarkable century of history, emphasizing the numerous deaths and traumas that occurred there. We walked dim chambers, halls, even dungeons. He credulously reported many instances of paranormal activity. Photo after photo was clicked, and my wife's uncle said he saw a little boy run from one room to another—a boy who was not on the tour. I missed it, of course. And no apparitions manifested in any of the photos, not even a single glowing orb or rod. Rods! Rods! My kingdom for a rod!

I tried complaining about ghostamania to my sister, but she, too, reported paranormal activity. She said one of her daughters, at the age of 3-4, talked about playing with two little boys (the sons of their nanny) who died in an accident the previous year. She said it without any fanfare or drama, and after about a year she didn't play with the dead boys anymore. Did they move on, or did my niece grow out of her sensitive stage, losing her sixth sense and thus becoming ghost-blind like Uncle Chad? Yes, this is the most credible of the ghostly tales I've heard thus far, having the classic requisites of small introverted child, untimely deaths, and even people of another culture (Mexicans), which I in my Eurocentric arrogance grant greater proclivity to spiritual acumen for some reason... not unlike what we assign to children, in some Hollywood-flavored formula where childlike Mexican-ness will give a person instant access to the Other Side, or at least an alternate Disneyland where Mickey Mouse is Chupacabra Miguel.

In my defense, Mexicans do celebrate El Dia de Los Muertos.

In closing, remember, only YOU can prevent hauntings—by clinging desperately to the concepts of rational consensus reality.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

New Knuckleheaded Tales Coming in 2013

For the emotionally underdeveloped humanoid in your life.

Here's one now. Because I might be invited back to "Read Across America" at a Willard Elementary school, and that's basically the apex of my social life.

The Curse of Dewey Groder

Dewey Groder was a mean kid, with one big eyebrow and yellow, horsey teeth. He looked like he may have had a bit of goblin blood, or a Norwegian troll for a grandmother. His family lived in a house, and Dewey lived in the garage, because his parents were frightened of being very close to him. He had already punched everyone in his family hard in the stomach, including his mother, twice—once when she was pregnant! But even a mean kid has to love some things. He loved popsicles, root beer, dirt clods, pills (the kind that turn into foam animals when dropped in water), video games, and ninja stuff.

    One day Dewey was over in the neighbor’s yard, hitting their dog with their cat. They just went limp; they were used to it. The dog actually liked it, at least much better than the cat did.
    Then Dewey spotted a grasshopper on his favorite corduroy pants. He wasn’t wearing the pants—they were hanging out on the clothesline to dry in the breeze. He was in his underwear, which had two holes burned in them right where Superman’s eyes used to be. Yes, Dewey is the one responsible for the holes. Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with Superman’s heat-ray vision.
    “Aha!” he said to the grasshopper, keeping a grip on the cat’s tail. “Now I will feed you to this cat!” Dewey grabbed the twitching insect. “Then I will grind everyone’s bones for my bread!” He was pointing all around, to the whole neighborhood. His troll heritage was coming out stronger than ever.
    The grasshopper was actually a witch, out sunning herself on a warm day. The problem with turning into a creature for recreational purposes is that you can become very relaxed, and begin to actually TURN INTO the creature. In this case, the witch had been corduroy-lounging for hours in the soothing warmth of the sun, after drinking sweet beads of dew off clover leaves all morning. It’s enough to make anyone go soft and stupefied, like when you eat too many Cheetos and forget how to stand up.
    “Wait!” cried the grasshopper. “Please don’t let the cat eat me! Their teeth are so pointy and their tongues are like sandpaper!” Was Dewey surprised at a talking grasshopper? Maybe a little, but he wouldn’t be coaxed out of his fun. In fact, finding a grasshopper with a shrieking little intelligent voice made this even better for him.
    “Shut up, victim!” he said. “I don’t negotiate with the terrorized. Although, you do give me an idea….” Dewey, with the cat dangling from the tail, was momentarily drooling backwards.
    The witch was beginning to come to her senses, but still had a ways to go before she could muster anything but threats.
    “This will be tricky,” he said, “I only have two hands.” Maybe if he sat on the cat, he could pull the grasshopper’s legs off. The witch could see the look on Dewey’s face, and it was bad news.
    “Let me go, and I will grant you one wish!” She was no genie, so this was a lie—she had no power to grant wishes.  
    “If you could really grant wishes, you should be giving more than one. How about one for each leg you don’t want me to pull off?” He went ahead and pulled one of the grasshopper’s legs off. “That should leave me one-two-three-four-FIVE wishes, right?”
    “OW! You horrible beast!” The witch was now quite alert, and changing her strategy. “Don’t you DARE pluck my legs, or I will curse you to the rue-point, and BEYOND!”
    “What’s the “rue-point” again?”
    “The point where you really regret it! I will curse you, mean creature!” Now, the witch was quite handy with curses, so this was no empty threat, unlike the thing with the wishes.
    “I think curses are funny, so go ahead,” said Dewey. “Bad words from a tiny bug? So-o-o-o-o-o-o SCARY!” And he ripped off another bug leg!
    “GAHH! You punk!” Now the witch was getting warmed up and ready to go. She remembered her name was Znshindapi, and then she recalled one of her favorite spells. She clicked two of her remaining feet together and said, “Butterfingers!” She was not one of the top-rated witches in North America (she wouldn’t have even made the big leagues in Europe or Asia), but she had more than enough juju to scuttle a screwball like Dewey Groder, no matter how much stinky troll blood he had in his circulatory system. She slipped from his fingers, which had become greasier than a doorknob at a potato-chip factory.
    “Butterfingers? How weak! I’ve heard worse curses on Sesame Street.”
    But Znshindapi squeezed through a chain-link fence as she swelled to the size of a hot dog bun and her regular human face came back, saying, “We shall see, young creep-o. ‘Butterfingers’ is actually one of my more loathsome incantations, and you deserve it, picking on little animals this way! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some body parts to regrow… I’ll have to spend a lot of time as a newt or something.” She flapped off as a football-sized grasshopper with a doll-sized woman’s head. Then her hair got tangled in her wings, so she crashed into a garage, said non-magical curses, and ended up stealing some kid’s bicycle to get away—no easy trick without arms, but she was still a witch.
    The cat ran for cover as it slipped from Dewey’s grasp. He was beginning to see the problem with having hands that ooze butter. He wiped his hands on the grass, but they instantly beaded up with slick, yellow butter.
    “I’ll kill you, butter-bug-lady!” Dewey screamed.
    “No, you won’t!” the witch yelled back from a long way off.
In the days that followed, Dewey learned just how miserable it can be having actual butterfingers. He spilled his root beer and dropped his popsicles in the dirt. His clothes were greasy, and he saturated his bedsheets with melted butter. If he picked his nose, he sneezed a spray of grease. He had to hold down the button on the drinking fountain with his elbow. He got pimples wherever he touched his face. All his comic books and magazines were translucent and stuck together.
    Worst of all, his favorite video games were impossible to play—the controller shot right out of his fingers every few moves, and after a while, all the dripping butter ruined the device completely. He would never set another high score on Dr. Shotgun 3, or Powermad Munchkinauts, or Devil’s Dogcatcher 2, or Harsh Ninja. And forget about ever being a ninja in real life—he couldn’t even manage a zipper, much less deadly combat skills.
    But every problem has a bright side. Dewey soon found that the neighbor’s cat and dog were very excited to lick his fingers, and they became his most dedicated buddies. He could get them to perform tricks and funny sounds, in exchange for a few finger licks.
    At school, Dewey was less popular than ever, and his grades went from lousy to embarrassing, because now he could barely hold a pencil. But he learned to entertain himself in new ways. He could go down the slide faster than ever by sitting on his hands, then watch all the other kids butter their butts. He could throw dirt-clods that became greasy shirt destroyers—but his aim was terrible, for obvious reasons.
    He also enjoyed making and eating buttered toast. If his mother opened the bag of bread for him, he could insert the bread in the toaster, push the lever down with a wooden spoon, then handle the toast and eat it. He found it rather delicious. He said, “Here is something I like,” chomping the toast. Even the crust was buttery, thanks to his disgusting digits. His mother moved the toaster out into the garage so he could toast without limit.
    “Dewey, you have a phone call,” said his mom. She held up the phone to his face so he wouldn’t have to grab it and drop it.
    “Weird, no one ever calls me,” he said. “They’re all too scared. Buncha wussies.”
    “I think you’re enjoying that toast too much, LARDfingers,” said the witch through the phone. “No, wait—VASELINEfingers—now with vinegar!” Then she hung up. Dewey’s toast popped out of the toaster. For the first time in his life, he began to cry.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Roses and Mike

We also took pictures in the big curved mirror.

I used to make slight fun of an old lady who walked her big dog and seemed to address all comers—the world at large—by way of her dog’s implied persona. She would speak to people only by speaking to him: “Say HI, Murphy. Tell him he’s doing a good job, but he should salt the sidewalks with something that’s friendly to doggie paws!”

Now I sometimes do the same thing with a baby: “Say bye-bye! Okay, baby, here we go.”

We gathered at a nursing home in Marionville for the death of my wife’s grandmother. It happened very quickly, while everyone was in transit. All we could do was see her too late, with a washcloth rolled under her chin, failing to keep her mouth from falling open. Once more, Baby Penelope saw her great-grandma, Rose Mary, for whom she is middle-named: Rose, then touched her face which no longer looked quite like anyone, certainly not like someone alive only minutes earlier. Then, a family talking, and not much to hold a baby in check. We would take a walk. “Let’s go look at the birds.”

The place smelled worse, in room-by-room pockets, than ever before. I sometimes tell myself that the biting chemical agents they use to mask the urine and dying are actually worse than the urine and the dying, but I could be wrong. I was not there before someone deployed the chemicals. Most rooms silent but for TV. Passed one dark room where a seated, dementia-haunted lady accused no one: “I do not love you!” As guaranteed by the laws of womanhood, every nurse and wheelchairbound old gal in the hall took a shine to the baby I toted, commenting delightedly, sometimes reaching out toward her the same way the baby reaches for food or toys.

We hit the universal relief-zone in the building, a broad entryway with large padded chairs, brochures, and birds: several flighty finches and two meek doves in a big cage with a glass front. One assumes that the birds are there for the residents to enjoy, but I’ve never seen a single elderly person paying them any attention. By default, they are there to entertain visitors, who can say, “At least they have these pretty birds.” Possibly, the seniors there avoid the birds out of pity, as they have a way of shivering in terror, then zipping to the far end of their six-foot chamber with heart-attack desperation if onlookers move.

Eventually depleting the bird diversion, we wandered back, explored the vacant cafeteria, considered pumping soft-serve ice cream out of a dispenser, thought better of it, then braved the hall again. Felt lucky not to encounter the nurse who looks to be 30 but with a raspy 70-year-old hillfolk-voice who will greet Penelope, then touch her skin-to-skin with no germ precautions.

Turning a corner, we rediscovered Mike’s bulletin board: a collection of cartoon art from the markers of small children, except it is all signed by Mike. We have enjoyed his art a few times before. Today we would meet Mike.

We leaned into a big room with Andy Griffith on a large TV. This was actually the same room where we had recently celebrated Rose Mary’s 90th birthday, but it was now cleared of all furniture and dotted with Valentine’s decorations. I considered the baby-mollifying potential in getting closer to the TV. In the middle of the room stood a guy watching Andy Griffith, loosely. He immediately sensed our presence and headed our way.

He was grinning and saying something, and the word “baby” was the only word I caught. He looked to be older than me, but his face bore the unusual combo of mature age over the rather childlike features of a classic Down Syndrome dude. I believe he also had some unfortunate toothlessness, giving his grin a sort of disturbing quality, like Blaster unmasked after Mad Max defeated him in the Thunderdome. With a little shame, I admit that I momentarily worried he might scare the baby; to my relief, she took him in stride and bounced him back some smiley teef.

“Yeah, baby…” I said, and some other generics like, “This is a nice room,” and “You’re havin’ fun.” The guy unloaded a solid 10-20 syllable sentence that went right by me. Then he said something that was definitely a question. After some awkward, smiling pauses where I didn’t know what to say because I couldn’t decipher a lick of what he said, he took a step closer, looked me square in the face and said with some concern, “You need to shave.”

I smiled and said, “Yeah, it’s definitely time for me to shave.” He must have said the “primer” or coughed up the Rosetta pebble, because then I began to grok him better—at least, well enough to translate when he said, “Did you look at my art? That’s my art by the door.” Oh, this was Mike! I kind of wanted to go discuss some of the pieces with him, especially the totally bizarre Spider-Man with no torso. But I didn’t know how to approach that, so I kept using Penelope as a social buffer. I lifted her up to some spiral-y Valentine hearts-on-helixes, letting her reach for them, and blowing on them for delightful rotation. She dug ‘em. Mike and I both reviewed her enjoyment with pleased monosyllabics. I had to keep her from actually grabbing the decorations, though, because she likes nothing better than to abuse and devour anything in the paper family. Luckily, I am still more spatially clever than she; I was able to keep her from destroying anything, while still providing her the buzzy feeling of near-grab-and-shred. She got a little revenge by getting ahold of my glasses once, which gives her brief but total power.

Mike said “cute baby” in various verbal casseroles. I switched Penelope to floor routine—in this case, planting her feet on top of mine and holding her hands while baby-stepping. Human exo-suit. This took us across the room, nearer to an open door of an office. Inside, a lady working at a desk heard Mike telling her to look, it was a baby!

“Is that Penelope Rose?” asked the lady. “I know ALL about her from her great-grandma! Oh, she was so excited about that little girl.” The lady kept on task and did not emerge from her office, but she clearly had a handle on the local denizens and lore. She was probably responsible for requisitioning the top-drawer lettering above the bulletin board that made Mike look like a big wheel: “ART WORK BY MIKE WALTON.”

Soon came a text from my wife, wondering where we were. “There’s your mom calling,” I said. “Say bye-bye!” I puppeteered baby’s hand for a round of bye-bye action, and we hit the mean streets.

If someday I must be mercied into a home, please let it have menu literacy.